What brings you together can tear you apart in the end, and what attracts you to people does usually turn out to be the first thing you want to change about them once the honeymoon period is over. All those charming innocent quirks they had when you first met, which used to make you giggle or go all heart-eyes-emoji, gradually morph into malignant bête-noires that metastasise into every part of your soul and choke you. That “cute” grunt at the end of every laugh, the way they dump their towels on the bathroom floor, the fact they can’t tie a tie, the way they wink at bartenders. Everything you laughed at and dismissed with a “What are you like?” when your love was still fresh salad will become the very things you scream at each other about and want to destroy, once everything’s gone limp and soggy.
Hoping things are going to stay sweet and crunchy for at least the duration of the date are 26-year-old Jack, a PR executive (is paid to send out emails which start “Hey, hope your well!!” and are signed off with “Best! x”) and Emma, 23, a school evaluation coordinator (no idea, but it looks good on LinkedIn I’m sure). And here they are. So summery. So cazh.
Emma kicks us off and is in pink. Jack’s in yellow/green/whatever that is. Don’t bother writing in to tell me; it doesn’t matter.
Regular readers, even those who’ve only popped their head round the door every so often, will know I do not hold with eating on a first date at all. It’s a mistake people make so often. Whenever a man would say to me “I’ll take you out for dinner”, I’d sigh so deeply, trees would bend back in the breeze as I exhaled.
What going out for dinner means, usually, is you have to pretend wherever they’ve chosen is fine, or risk looking a picky bitch if you suggest somewhere else, or you have to choose a place to eat yourself and worry about what this choice says about you. Are you coming over too flash, too common, too rough, too uppity, too cultured, too fat too thin etc etc. You then have to watch your date EAT. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never watched anyone eat and thought “Phwoar”. I mean, I’m sure we’d all pay good money to watch Joe Jonas and Zac Efron feed each other bananas and raspberry Magnums topless, while Jake Gyllenhaal filmed it on his Samsung, but the sad fact is that most of us have the grace and charm of a Staffordshire bull terrier trying to chew a club sandwich when we eat. There are noises, spluttering as you try to answer a question before you’ve quite finished chewing, spillages, slobbering, grunts.
Plus, if you’re out for a meal and decide you absolutely hate them by the end of the first course, you can’t actually “do a runner” as Emma suggests, you have to sit there, with no escape from the eating habits of Uncle Disgusting, for another round of food at least. And don’t get me started on chopsticks, shelling prawns, slurping pasta, soup splashes, trying to eat your leftovers, asking if you “want to try some” of theirs, sharing platters, “excuse fingers”, faux-embarrassed giggling at suppressed belches, exclaiming “aaaah” and sitting back in their chair after devouring a belly-busting steak, picking their teeth, complaining about perfectly clean cutlery, being overly familiar or imperious with the waiting staff, filling your wine glass for you and giving you less than he gives himself, ordering on your behalf, proposing to share a dessert, whispering that puddings are “naughty” and that you “mustn’t” before ordering their biggest dessert on the list and, worst of all, leaning in for a kiss –and, yes, that is spinach between their teeth – and leaving you with a mouth that tastes of onions.
“He was there” is not a first impression. It’s, like, a statement of fact.
I like being on time too. I have a rule, and it is a rule I tend not to say out loud to people too often because it makes them look at me in a slightly curious and horrified way, like they’ve just discovered something very inappropriate under my floorboards. If you arrive bang on time, at the time you have arranged to be somewhere, you are in fact late.
I do have another rule, however, which is beautifully contradictory but hey it’s my party and attendance is not compulsory, that you should arrive around three to five minutes late for a date for OPTIMUM effect. This means they’ll be there to see you make an entrance and you’d better make it good because first impressions are bought and sold on the way you own that swing of the pub door, baby.
Easy-going seems to be one of those phrases that’s losing all meaning. Are easy-going and relaxed the same thing? Does it mean you don’t care? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Spoiler: nobody has ever accused me of being easy-going in my life, but I insisted on opening my own savings account at 4, read dictionaries for fun and didn’t laugh at a joke until my mid-teens so maybe it’s just me.
You are 23. You’re not supposed to know anything about wine except that it comes in three “colours” and is priced according to how guilty you should feel after drinking an entire bottle of it in half an hour. Out of the actual bottle.
Under £4.99 = guilt-free.
£5.00 – £9.99 = steady on, Ivana Trump.
Over £9.99 = shit, sorry Dad, I swear I’ll replace it, I swear, no I did sip it and enjoy it, I really did, you were right, it had an amazing vintage.
There simply isn’t enough time for us all left on Earth for me to even start on steak-splaining and how majestically unfuckable it makes you, so let’s move on to the cocktails out of coconuts instead.
The only people I can think of who’d like cocktails in coconuts are those really awful posh people that even Tatler won’t write about, who wear smoking jackets from the age of 14, went to “the school” – to say where is terribly common – actually know someone in real life called Algernon, and have rosy cheeks and straw-like blond hair. They frequent tiki bars with their braying pals, wear racially inappropriate outfits at “colonial” fancy-dress parties, fall in love with people who look exactly like their parents and, sadly, probably own the very ground on which you’re standing. Or are Prince Harry.
And well lookee here, just like magic, here comes an awkward moment.
Nobody gives a toss about your virtue signalling for the much maligned brave souls who toil at the frontline of recruitment, Emma; those mercenaries can look after themselves.
There is something quite disturbing, really odd, about someone mentioning which school they went to, or that they went to school at all, on a date, when they’re 26. Is it supposed be impressive? How should you react? So your parents transferred some money into a school’s bank account and all of a sudden your uniforms got a lot more ridiculous and a lot less itchy? Is it an attempt to identify any links with your alma mater? Was he hoping for a secret handshake? That said, why does this make her feel uncomfortable?
Bragging about education on a date is more common than you’d think. For people who have nothing else – and think how gloomy the last 8 years must have been for Jack if he’s still banging on about his school at 26 – their education, the last time they didn’t really have to think much for themselves, takes on an almost mythical quality. I once sat on a date with a guy, who wasn’t as pretty as he thought he was and really should’ve tried harder, while he explained, in minute detail, his entrance exam and interview for drama school. A decade previously.
“Usually after everything I said.” Oh, Jack.
I have to back this. Good manners cost nothing. If someone is doing something for you, you need to say thank you.
You can sound a bit like a stuck record after a while, however, especially if they say “you’re welcome” back every time you thank them. Perhaps there should be an agreed limit on the number of thank you, to save awkwardness all round, or a contract you sign on being seated at the table which says: “I promise to feel gratitude for everything you do for me this evening and, to save time and breaking up the conversation, will say thank you only AFTER you pour the wine and not when you offer, and when you place anything else on the table or take it away. You do not need to say I am welcome”. That’s still quite a lot of thank you, though.
I once went out for a dinner with a man who said, halfway through the meal, “Do you know how many times you’ve said thank you during this meal? It’s loads. It’s a bit much.” Reader, I said it only one more time that evening, and it followed the word “no” and meant a cold shower for him and a hearty chuckle on the bus home, alone, for me.
Jack was taught how to use cutlery properly at his Academy de Snoot for le Terminally Posh school, I imagine. I wonder what she did with the butter-knife. Dropped it? Used it to eat soup with? Forgot to mention her pony and childhood skiing holidays as she lavished her sourdough with Vitalite? We’ll never know.
I’ve only room for one respectable in my life, and it’s Mel and Kim’s.
I’m starting to think Jack is actually 47. Or maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t know what else to say. I go in quite hard on straight guys who take part in this column sometimes – and it does seem here that Jack is only interested in things she’s achieved, rather than what she was like as a person, which I usually detest – but I wonder here whether Jack simply can’t find the words to be anything other than polite.
Wouldn’t you, Emma? Not even for a chance to see their eyes widen in horror and watch them lightly rip the piss out of him as they threw another Sauv Blanc or pint of craft beer down their necks? Sometimes the best way to put someone off you is to introduce them to your friends; it can be a more effective repellant than your own BO or UKIP-voting tendencies.
If you’re dating someone and aren’t sure about them, the temptation is to hide them from friends until you’ve made up your mind about them. This isn’t always a good idea. Why not throw them to the lions and see how they manage? Sometimes there’s no greater thrill than feeling the pinch on your arm by a friend who “wants a word” and trying not to laugh as they very earnestly ask you what the hell you think you’re doing with this guy.
Well, good for Jack. This is great. A nice thing to say. I wonder what Jinty, Tressolea and Pongo will make of her?
No. None of this, sadly. What’s worse? Being oblivious or being fully aware you’re in a car crash?
Oh, not this again. “He probably thought I was scatty.” “He probably thought I was crazy and talked too much.”
Even when asked to imagine the opinion of a man who she’ll never see again, has no interest in and has roundly savaged on the pages of a national newspaper, Emma still goes for self-deprecation. It makes me wonder whether the vibe she got from Jack was that he didn’t like her at all and was going to skewer her here. If this is the case, does it mean her answers are authentic, and it really was like going on a date with a leather cigarette case? Or did Jack merely sit there in mild amusement, doing that impenetrable face that men who are mildly amused do, and it spooked her a bit? I’ll never know, unless they email in.
Anyway, you’re not a lunatic for just talking. I’m a bit disappointed, if the date was as bad as is suggested, that Emma didn’t say “I don’t care what he made of me”, but she’s the one answering the questions, not me.
Yeaaaaaah, I’m going to go with my original assumption that the date really was that bad. Not even a nightcap, no awkward farewell drink in a noisy, about to close, All Bar One round the corner? Yep, it’s a certified stinker.
Or any occasion, Jack. This wasn’t a dress rehearsal. Oh, Jack. I long to understand, to read between the lines, but I can’t seem to work it out. Were you taught, at this very posh school of yours, to soldier on, to never complain? Because, this date sounds like agony – I’ve had to get up from the sofa three times to go and wring out a tea towel just to get some release – and yet you have, either valiantly or dimwittedly, revealed nothing of this.
Mate. Maaaate. My man. I reckon you’d have been better off arriving four hours late and asking one of the waiting staff what time they finished, Jack.
Time of death for this date: 30 seconds after Emma pressed SEND on the email back to the Guardian journalist.
You see? That’s a gentleman’s zero at least. There’s more to this than meets the eye.
FIVE. I can’t remember the last time this happened. 5 is a minus. It’s outside. It didn’t get a ticket, it doesn’t have a seat. 5 missed out, 5 has to read all about it on Facebook the next day. 5 cries at Timehop, 5 doesn’t get tagged in nice photos, 5 is a loser. 5. Never be 5. Give me my zero, my 6, or give me death. FIVE.
So we crawl on our bellies, gasping for air, starved of joy and love and romance, to the very end of the date. With our dying breaths, the faces of family members, fucks we shouldn’t have given and drinks we should have tried flashing before our eyes, we ask the final question, the words landing with a croak in our stony, constricted throats:
Will. You. Do. This. Horror. Again?
I need a lie down.
Photograph: James Drew Turner; Linda Nylind, both for the Guardian
Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. Once you recover from the burning, I swear it’ll all be OK. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have.